ScHoolboy Q, CrasH Talk

The quality of tea is determined less by the leaf than by its assemblage. The bag should always go in first and boiled water (approx 85°C) will follow; under no circumstances should any bovine lactate make initial contact with the vessel – that is the water’s prerogative. The next stage is the most critical and demands patience: allow the tea bag to brew for at least two minutes before it is removed. The silky white may then be poured in at the Snob’s discretion.

Letting the tea bag brew extends well beyond its literal meaning. There is something contemplative in the act and the reward is self-evident. This translates well into music reviewing where a listener should be in no haste to give their ‘hot take’ on the album of the day. Let the fools have their day in the sun! A true review is evolutionary, not reactionary and time must be afforded to those who wish to let the tea bag brew. Over a month has now passed since the release of Schoolboy Q’s latest album, CrasH Talk, and the opinion of this subordinate has brewed for long enough.

CrasH Talk is ScHoolboy Q’s fifth commercial album and ends a near-three year hiatus in the studio. It follows the eerie, disjointed Blank Face LP that cemented Q’s status as one of Hip-Hop’s most mercurial rappers. When Blank Face was released, it was like the first sighting of Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It revealed an artist whose music was ugly and disfigured, but he was loved all the more for it. Over seventeen tracks, listeners were seduced by the groove of WHatever u Want and Kno Ya Wrong while being simultaneously bludgeoned by the ferocity of tracks like Groovy Tony and Dope Dealer. The album was by no means flawless – far from it – but it was brilliantly laced together by an earnestness that is often found wanting in neo-gangster rap. Tookie Knows II, the final song on the album, drew all these parts together for a scintillating finish.

Unfortunately, CrasH Talk does not excite the senses in quite the same fashion. It sinks rather depressingly into a rather banal collection of humdrum tracks that struggle to make any kind of impact, emotional or cerebral, at all. The featured artists, who could quite easily be copy and pasted into any turgid but commercially viable Hip-Hop album in 2019, do little to dispel this notion. Most conspicuous is Travis Scott’s auto-tuned feature on the CHopstix, a lyrically vapid track about ScHoolboy Q’s fondness for women’s legs. Scott was probably paid around $75,000 (minimum) for rapping this verse (twice):

Chopsticks, chopsticks, chopsticks (Yeah)
I love them chopsticks, chopsticks, chopsticks (Alright)
(Ooh) Chop, chop, chop, yeah
(Ooh) Chop, chop, chop, chop
Chopsticks, chopsticks, chopsticks (Yeah)
Her legs chopsticks, chopsticks, chopsticks (Alright)
(Ooh) Chop, chop, chop, yeah
(Ooh) Chop, chop, chop, chop (It’s lit)

Unfortunately, it is the transparency of efforts like these to produce a radio record that are so devoid of any kind of meaning beyond a superficial likening of women’s legs to chopsticks that deters would-be listeners from Hip-Hop. Of course, Hip-Hop does not have to be littered with quadruple entendres and hidden meanings, but the trade-off for plain lyrics has to be for good production, which this track lacks.

Elsewhere in the album, Q fails to redeem himself. Tracks like 5200 and Water come close, but there seems to be a permanent mismatch in the energy behind Q’s voice, the production or his flow. That is not to suggest that these songs would be flat in a live setting – quite the contrary. Formerly Kendrick Lamar’s hype man, one of Q’s greatest assets is his ability to whip crowds into a frenzy, which this subordinate can attest to. 5200 could well be one of those tracks, but readers will have to wait until later this year before Mr Q ventures over to this side of the Atlantic. Other tracks however, like Dangerous, Lies and even Tales are absent in at least two of the three of the aforementioned components. On Lies, Q’s voice stabs through the beat too aggressively for a summer song. And while Ty Dollar $ign’s hook may resonate with some Hip-Hop fans, it makes no effort to distinguish itself from the thousand other summer hooks that will inevitably populate the charts this year.

Above all, what prevails in this album is a sense of insecurity. In Blank Face, where Q was able to define his insecurity in the album, it feels like those same insecurities are now defining him. Where listeners could once tap into Q’s innermost thoughts, however dark and convoluted, the tone and theme of each song are so confused in CrasH Talk that listeners cannot get the same level of access. CrasH, the album’s eponymous track, offers the greatest degree of insight into Q’s headspace. The uplifting beat, a DJ Premier sample, is punctured by Q’s disconsolate voice who seems at a loss with his own success:

Mastered the rap game, mastered the dope game
Still I feel like that I’m God-like on these long flights
I’m left behind, it don’t feel right

Gave my daughter that mansion
Gave my mother that million
Sold my soul to my feelings

It would be unfair to malign this album as a total write-off. Numb Numb Juice is an enjoyable listen and Q has some fun on Gang Gang, but when minds are casted to Blank Face, this album cannot help but feel like a step down. The numbness of Q’s lyrics in CrasH hints at an artist feeling out-of-sorts, disconnected and as he has said himself in past interviews, depressed. Whether this change in demeanour reflects a broader, more permanent shift in Q’s music will be left to posterity. As a member of Hip-Hop’s most talented collective, TDE, he will always be the Yohan Blake to Kendrick Lamar’s Usain Bolt. Rarely does history remember the silver medallist, but few can deny the indelible mark that he has left on the Hip-Hop zeitgeist. So while the name ScHoolboy Q will no longer ring in the ears of generations to come, perhaps it is then that he will be happiest: slipping back into the waves of anonymity from whence he came.